Since, the I-495 High Occupancy / Toll “express” lanes opened in 2012, McLean residents have noticed a big problem in their neighborhood: A lot more traffic.
Why is traffic worse? The northbound I-495 “express” lanes end in McLean, near Old Dominion Drive. Two lanes of HOT lane traffic must merge with four lanes of general beltway traffic. Merging and a busy road mean traffic “friction,” choke points, and brake lights. The situation has become bad that VDOT decided to add an extra merge lane beyond the Express Lanes, by re-purposing the safety shoulder / breakdown lane. A red X appears in this lane outside of peak hours, but many drivers ignore the X. Unfortunately, adding the lane only aggravated the merging before Georgetown Pike.
So, northbound travelers from the Tysons and McLean area, found a solution: Avoid the express lanes completely, and avoid I-495 for as long as possible. Enter I-495 at Georgetown Pike via Balls Hill Road and nearby local roads. This avoids much of the beltway backups in the area, until the nearby local roads became clogged too.
Naturally, McLean residents were not happy about high speed through traffic trying to zoom through their neighborhoods en route to the capital beltway. So they began pressuring VDOT and their Fairfax County representative.
This pressure became active and vocal until the residents were sure they were heard. How were they sure? Because their Fairfax Supervisor John Foust and VDOT are now working together to ensure the Georgetown Pike entrance to I-495 North is closed to traffic from 1-7 p.m. on weekdays.
A radical plan that closes an Interstate entrance will have effects for many travelers, even those who never entered a McLean local street. It will force many to backtrack to other freeway entrances. But it will reduce cut through traffic on local streets, and this will benefit McLean. It also requires federal approval to change interstate highway access.
Before the plan proceeds, the entire Board of Fairfax Supervisors may choose to provide support, and VDOT must conduct a trial to study data for the Federal Highway Administration. This pilot period would last four months, and then VDOT would decide whether to formally request a permanent Beltway entrance closure.
It remains to be seen whether this proposal will be a net benefit. It will likely help local McLean residents who don’t like traffic on their streets. But travelers on the Beltway and trying to enter the Beltway from Great Falls, McLean, and other areas nearby will likely loose. Does the contention between Interstate travelers and local residents sound familiar? It does in Vienna and Dunn Loring, where government officials are choosing to prioritize long distance automobile commuters over local residents and transit oriented neighborhoods.
But one thing is more certain: When residents ban together and petition their government representatives together, things happen. Just ask Fairfax Supervisor John Foust, who is choosing his constituents over Interstate travelers.
A public meeting for the Georgetown Pike Beltway Entrance closure proposal will take place on August 2, 7:00 PM at McLean High School.